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St James's Church has a long association with the pilgrimage to the Saint's legendary tomb in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Today, modern pilgrims still commence the journey in honour of St James from the Dublin Street which bears his name. 


The dedication of St James's Church and graveyard is to St James the apostle, Patron Saint of Spain, whose relics, translated to north Spain, founded a pilgrimage site said to have rivalled Rome and Jerusalem in the middle ages. St James was also known to carry a scallop shell with him on his travels. The new church at Santiago de Compostela was constructed in the late 11th century.


Compostela was one of the great pilgrimage centres of Christendom and Ireland had particularly close links with the city. In 1210, Archbishop Henry established a Dublin hostel for pilgrims preparing to travel to Compostela. This hostel was located east of the Priory of All Hallows close to where the river Steyn meets the liffey. An Irish college was also established in Santiago in 1605 and close educational and trading links between Spain and Ireland continued until at least the 18th century. Most pilgrims from Ireland sailed to Corunna, close to Compostela.


There are few finds of burials from medieval graveyards, where the body was interred with a scallop, indicating that the individual was a pilgrim. At James’s Graveyard, several large conch shells have been noted in the cemetery following the recent clearance. This appears to be a local, recent ‘take’ on the association of St James with the scallop.


Photograph of conch found at St James's Graveyard. Hundreds of these shells were found on site, a possible recent 'take' on the association of St James with the scallop.


Photograph of St James's Gate, courtesy of Dublin City Council Digital Collections

There is also a long link between St. James’s Gate in Dublin and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, St. James’s Gate was the location of one of the outer gates of the walled city of Dublin. Merchants and farmers from the south had to pass through St. James’s Gate to enter the city of Dublin, and a holy well was located outside St. James’s Gate dedicated to St. James.


The Front Gate of the Guinness Brewery, founded in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, stands adjacent to the old medieval St. James’s Gate and visitors wishing to travel in the footsteps of this ancient pilgrimage route, still today have their ‘passports’ stamped at St James's Gate (Guinness Storehouse) marking the start of their pilgrimage from Ireland.


The Camino Society Ireland is located in St James’s Parish on James’s Street, they issue the Pilgrim Passport and offer practical information for pilgrims as well as an annual lecture on The Camino. More information can be found on their website.


A medieval fair, known as St. James’s Fair, occurred at the St. James’s Gate site on 25th July, running for 6 days. The earliest written account of the fair dates back to 1577. The fair was so successful that it attracted merchants not only from England, but from France and Flanders as well. During this feast time, the graves at St James’s Graveyard were decked with ornaments and garlands of white paper which had been fashioned into fanciful forms.


In 2018, to honour St James’s Feast Day on 25th July, Pearse Lyons Distillery decorated the graves surrounding the church with paper decorations and hope to continue its tradition in the years to come.

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